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Florida to seek death penalty in couple's slaying

  • Story Highlights
  • Byrd and Melanie Billings were found shot to death July 9 in their Beulah home
  • Four of seven suspects face charges, including murder and home-invasion robbery
  • An eighth suspect, Pamela Wiggins, is charged with being an accessory
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(CNN) -- Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against four of seven suspects facing murder charges in the July death of a Florida couple known for adopting special-needs children, authorities said Monday.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is one of seven people charged with murder.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is one of seven people charged with murder.

State Attorney Bill Eddins filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty against Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., Wayne Thomas Coldiron, Donnie Ray Stallworth Jr. and Frederick Lee Thornton Jr. They are charged with first-degree murder and home invasion robbery in the July 9 shooting deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings in the couple's home in Beulah, a Pensacola suburb near the west end of Florida's panhandle.

Eddins' office would release no further information regarding the decision to seek the death penalty.

Police have previously said they believe Gonzalez, 35, was the organizer of the slayings. Two of the other suspects told authorities he was the lone gunman, according to court documents.

Three other men face the same charges as the four. They are Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Sr.; Gary Lamont Sumner; and Rakeem Chavez Florence. Florence is 16, but was charged as an adult, authorities have said. All seven suspects pleaded not guilty.

An eighth suspect, Pamela Wiggins, is charged with being an accessory after the fact. Police said a safe belonging to the Billingses was found in Wiggins' back yard. That safe contained prescription medications, some jewelry and family documents. A second safe, containing $164,000 in cash, antique jewelry and legal documents, was in the home at the time of the slayings but was not taken. Family members said the money was a reserve for Byrd Billings' financing business.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan has said publicly his office believes it is a possibility that the slaying of the Billingses was a contracted hit. The state attorney's office said in July it was focusing on robbery as a primary motive, but was willing to consider others.

A source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN in July that prosecutors believe there were dual motives in the killings -- robbery and a contracted hit. The source said prosecutors were working under the belief that most of the suspects in the case were told only that they were robbing the Billingses, but that Gonzalez and other yet-unnamed suspects also were plotting to kill the couple. The source was not sure of the alleged motive behind the slayings.

Autopsy reports showed that each of the Billingses was shot multiple times.

The Billingses, who each had two biological children, also had adopted 13 special-needs children. Police have said nine of the children were at home at the time of the invasion, and one managed to flee and seek help from a neighbor.

Documents released by prosecutors showed that one of the children, a boy who has autism and speech issues, was in his parents' room at the time they were killed there. The child's age was not given. The boy, in an interview with a nurse who works with special-needs children, told her that "two bad men" wearing black masks awakened Byrd Billings and told him: "You're going to die."

All About Escambia CountyPensacolaMurder and Homicide

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